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Guatemala Shifted Tactics With The Latest Migrant Caravan And Here’s Why

The Coronavirus pandemic hasn’t reduced violence or poverty or many of the other reasons that people flee their homes in an attempt to reach the United States. In fact, in many places violence and poverty are at record levels as the virus leaves millions of people without work, access to medical care, or education.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that even though the Coronavirus pandemic continues to pose a serious health threat, thousands of Central Americans banded together in another caravan. However, this time it barely made it out of Honduras before being forced back by Guatemalan security forces.

The country has completely changed its approach to how it handles these ‘migrant caravans.’ Previously, the country had allowed many of them safe passage. However, under pressure from the Trump administration, the country’s president has decided a heavy-handed approach is better.

Under pressure from Donald Trump, Guatemala halted more than 3,000 migrants set for the U.S.

As a caravan containing roughly 3,500 Honduran migrants attempted to cross into Guatemala on their path to the United States, Guatemala halted their progress and ordered their removal from the country. This was a starch contrast to the migrant caravans of year past as many were allowed to seek asylum or even cross Guatemala’s border with Mexico.

In a televised message, Giammattei said Guatemalan security forces were able to “contain” the caravan, that according to the president was a factor in the transmission of the Coronavirus.

According to the Guatemalan Migration Institute (IGM), the caravan entered eastern Guatemala on Thursday, pushing over a military barrier setup along the border before splitting into groups to reach Mexico, which had already closed its borders in anticipation of the caravan’s arrival.

By Friday and Saturday, hundreds of Guatemalan police and military personnel set up roadblocks forcing migrants — including young children and people in wheelchairs — to turn back.

Guatemala’s president said the containment efforts were to protect the country from further Coronavirus infections.

Credit: Jose Torres / Getty Images

Shortly after the caravan entered Guatemala by foot and overwhelming the border security forces, the country’s president – Alejandro Giammattei – vowed to send them back to Honduras, citing his efforts to contain the pandemic.

“The order has been given to detain all those who entered illegally, and return them to the border of their country,” Giammattei said in a broadcast address to the nation. “We will not allow any foreigner who has used illegal means to enter the country, to think that they have the right to come and infect us and put us at serious risk.”

Giammattei issued an order that would suspend some constitutional rights in the provinces they were expected to pass through, apparently in order to facilitate detaining them.

“We are experiencing a pandemic in Guatemala which has cost us to control with months of efforts,” said the president, adding it was an “obligation” to reduce the risk of further contagion.

At the onset of the pandemic, Guatemala instituted a strict lockdown of the country, even closing its airports and borders to all travel. So far, the country of about 17 million has seen more than 94,000 Covid-19 infections and 3,293 people have died since March.

These so-called caravans have become more common in recent years as migrants band together for protection.

In recent years, thousands of Central American migrants traveling in large groups have crossed into Mexico, with the aim of reaching the U.S. border. In the U.S., these caravans have become a hot-button issue for political conservatives, including President Trump.

During the 2018 caravan that occurred close to the midterm elections, Trump threatened Mexico with steep tariffs and economic pain if the country didn’t do more to stop the caravans before they reached the U.S. – Mexico border. The country bowed to Trump’s demands and deployed its National Guard and more immigration agents to break up attempted caravans last year. They dispersed large groups of migrants attempting to travel together in southern Mexico.

The odds of a large migrant caravan reaching the U.S. border, already low, have grown increasingly slim over the past year. In fact, crossing into the U.S. legally is virtually impossible now thanks to inhumane policies implemented by the Trump administration. Meanwhile, attempting an unauthorized crossing into the U.S. is as difficult as ever.

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